KARACHI - The problem of bondage is intact as some 1.8 million people are still in the bonded share cropping practices across Pakistan in agriculture sector alone, revealed a research report titled Effectiveness of Interventions for the Release and Rehabilitation of Bonded Labourers in Pakistan. The report was released here on Sunday, which was done by Zulfiqar Shah, and has been published by Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER). It was launched at a ceremony held by PILER in collaboration with Karachi Press Club (KPC) at KPC, where a renowned scholar from Amsterdam Professor Jan Breman was the chief guest, while Dr. Breman also delivered a lecture on bonded labour issue in Pakistan. Director PILER Karamat Ali Bhatti, Senator Mir Hasil Bizinjo, President KPC Imtiaz Faran, Secretary KPC Khanzada, Nighat Saeed, and Saeed Baloch were also present on the occasion. The report strongly recommended massive land reforms in the country to end labour exploitation practices such as bonded labour. It says that despite number of interventions on the part of judiciary, government, civil society and media, the problem of bondage is still intact and almost 1.8 million people are still in the bonded share cropping practices across Pakistan in agriculture alone. Other sectors, having this practice, are brick kilns, carpet weaving, mining, glass-bangles, tanneries, domestic work and beggary. The report in detail discusses the status of bonded labour in brick kiln, agriculture and carpet weaving sectors and also deliberated on status of legislation in Pakistan and interventions by different sections of the society to release the bonded labour. Agriculture has been identified as the main location of debt bondage in Pakistan with concentration in lower districts of Sindh province. Bonded labour in agriculture is also prevalent in Punjab meanwhile, a recent study confirms the prevalence of debt bondage at least in two districts, Hafizabad and Bahawalpur, in Punjab province. Similarly, in brick kiln, most of the workers are poor who find no other way to earn bread for their families. They also take loans against the promised work before or after joining the work and are not able to wave off the outstanding debts due to low wages they get. The research pointed out that international organisations do consider bonded labour a contemporary form of slavery that involves an estimated 20 million people all over the world. It is outlawed in the Constitution of Pakistan and the country has ratified many international conventions promising to bring this menace to an ultimate end, yet the practice persists. The issue of bonded labour cannot be seen in isolation: it is closely linked with the state of human rights and labour rights, especially of rural and agricultural workers, research report says. The definition of bondage or bonded labour, in Pakistan, generally focuses on debt under which poor workers are coerced into a situation where they are compelled to work against their wishes not for some years but for generations. In many cases, with restricted movements and limited or no freedom of choice. The latest law in Pakistan, which declared compulsory work against credit as bonded labour, defines the term 'bonded labour as 'Any labour or service rendered under the bonded labour system. Though different NGOs claim that about 30,000 bonded labourers have been released in the country during last one decade, the PILER research team has been able to account for only 8,530 people confirmed released by 2007. According to the report total 8,530, bonded labourers have been released in the brick kiln and agriculture sectors, and a majority (5,166) was released by the joint action of NGOs, judiciary and administration. The NGOs helped or directly filed a petition in the courts of the law, and the judiciary had sent a bailiff to the location or asked the police to recover the bonded labourers. Interestingly all these bonded labourers were released under habeas corpus petitions despite the fact that there is a special law, Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act 1992, which defines exacting forced labour as cognisable offence. According to the statistics, provided by the government to the National Assembly, only 23 cases were detected under Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act and the fine collected during this period was merely Rs 6,100. This state of affairs reflects poor implementation of the law. Bonded Labour Fund, established in 2001 has not been utilised and more than Rs 100 million remained with the government unutilised at a time when released Haris (peasants) were living in subhuman conditions in and around Hyderabad. The research report recommended that since all forms of bonded labour are prohibited under the national and international laws, so the government should strictly enforce all the laws and international conventions in all the sectors. Special attention is required on implementation of Bonded Labour (system) Abolition Act 1992. Bonded Labour Fund, established in 2001, as part of the National Policy and Plan of Action remains unutilised. Special projects should be initiated to utilise those funds especially for the rehabilitation of freed bonded labourers.